Guest post by Jenay Ross, USC journalism student: Julie Ruttenberg has been volunteering at the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano for about a year and a half now, but it took an entire decade for her to be able to.
When Julie and her husband first had their son, who is autistic and now 21 years old, they were going through some hard times as a young couple. Fortunately, they had enough money to get by. Knowing that her family didn’t have it as bad as others, she frequently thought about other mothers and babies. “Babies should never go hungry,” she said.
Starting off her relationship with the Food Bank in small proportions, every payday she bought an extra box of cereal to donate. “I remember one year just going through the grocery store with a hundred dollars for the Food Bank. I would fill a grocery cart,” Julie said, and when the bagger went to take it to the cart I said, “No, just put it in that barrel.”
When she was ready to become more involved with the Food Bank, she asked if there were any volunteer opportunities in the office. Unfortunately, office help was not needed and she was unable to sort food due to the arthritis in her ankles prohibiting her from standing on cement for a long period of time.
Ten years later, Julie finally became an office volunteer when help was needed at the new Fairfield warehouse. She has become involved with the food stamp outreach efforts at the Food Bank. When people lose their jobs and find it difficult to make ends meet they usually go to the Food Bank. “They figured out that the food banks tend to find people,” she said. The Food Bank has been working with the state to make sure everyone gets access to food stamps. Instead of calling it food stamps, they now use the name CalFresh.
The CalFresh requirements are based on how many people there are in a household and how much money is coming in from everybody. Working every Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, Julie does the majority of the documentation for the program including making copies of the paperwork and sorting all of it. She also helps out with different training meetings throughout the year with the Food Bank’s partners.
With her son becoming a little more independent, she can leave him home alone to wander to and from the nearby library during the day. “It frees me up, so it worked out timing wise. He’s old enough to be left alone and I have somewhere to go,” said Julie.
Julie has completely been enjoying her time at the Food Bank. “They make me feel like one of the group,” she said. She was even invited to a staff potluck. The staff told her she was one of them even though she does everything unpaid. “I get paid in wonderful good feelings,” she said.
She is a prime example of it never being too late to volunteer. Her persistence to be involved led her to her goal of helping those in need.